An online degree can make sense for adults who wish to improve skills and boost their careers, but who may not be able to take classes on campus during the day due to job or family obligations. With that audience in mind, on Jan. 9, U.S. News will publish the 2018 Best Online Programs rankings on usnews.com.
U.S. News believes the Best Online Programs rankings and data are the most comprehensive available to prospective students. For the new edition, nearly 1,500 distance education degree programs will be included, an increase of more than 7 percent from the 2017 rankings.
U.S. News will include a general ranking of schools’ online bachelor’s degree offerings and discipline-specific rankings of online MBA and master’s in business degree programs, plus online master’s in engineering, computer information technology, nursing, criminal justice and education.
Prospective students can also use the searchable directory to explore additional information such as tuition, program offerings and online services offered to enrolled students.
For example, a user who would like to pay in-state tuition can narrow his or her search by state. A prospective student interested in consulting can see a list of online MBA programs that offer this concentration.
Most of the programs U.S. News analyzed are offered at public or private institutions. Only a very small percent of the online bachelor’s programs are at for-profit institutions, although these for-profit schools do enroll large numbers of students.
Why rank online degree programs? Because program-level comparisons matter. An institution’s department in one school can be managed entirely differently than its other departments.
Even within a school, distance learners may receive different academic support than their on-ground counterparts and be taught by separate faculty. Sometimes the degrees awarded through distance education are different than campus-based offerings. Therefore, online programs merit their own comparisons.
The highest-ranked programs are those that both perform well on traditional academic merits – such as having high graduation rates and credentialed faculty – while also having successfully adapted their course delivery and student services for remote learners.
Because distance learners tend to be midcareer adults, the metrics for academic quality vary from U.S. News’ rankings of brick-and-mortar programs. For example, the undergraduate level rankings do not assess standardized test scores or high school class standing, but do factor graduate indebtedness.